|MISSION AND HISTORY
The Secretary of State's Elections Division is responsible for:
- administering all laws governing voter registration and elections;
- maintaining the statewide voter registration system;
- scheduling elections and qualifying candidates for elections;
- purchasing and maintaining absentee and election day voting equipment;
- printing and distributing absentee ballots and regular ballots for voting machines;
- paying for all election expenses;
- and finally, compiling, reporting and maintaining official elections returns and statistics.
Also, the Governor issues and the Secretary of State countersigns the official commission that entitles elected or appointed officials to hold office. The Secretary of State publishes the "Louisiana Roster of Officials", the "Election Code" booklet with all of Louisiana's elections statutes, and the "Election Returns Books" that contain precinct-by-precinct returns for all Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections.
HISTORY OF THE ELECTIONS DIVISION
For countless centuries, man has sought a simple,quick and accurate way of expressing and recording the wishes of the people. Long before the Christian Era, primitive peoples were assembled by their rulers to signify their desires on matters of common interest.
They did so by the clash of spears on shields or by vocal clamor. The ancient Greeks voted by acclamation, by division into groups, or by balloting with shells and bronze disks of different sizes. Another means used consisted of placing a pebble or little ball in an urn, hence the word "ballot" from the Italian "ballotta", meaning little ball. The little balls could have been white in color for an affirmative vote or black for a negative vote. Therefrom came the phrase "blackballed" that is still used today to describe rejection or losing in an election. These were crude forerunners of today's elections with voting machines.
In 139 B.C. the first written ballot was used in Rome, yet it was not until 1872 that secret voting for public officials was adopted in England. The opposition termed it "the deadly mischief of making numbers the sole test of public opinion." The first record of the use of the ballot in America was in 1629 when the members of the Salem church chose their pastor. A few years later the Colony of Massachusetts adopted this method to elect civil magistrates. In these early days, little secrecy was afforded the voter in marking his ballot. Each party or faction distributed its own ballot among the voters. Frequently printed on colored paper, it was readily possible to determine which ballot the voter selected.
The Australian Ballot was introduced in this country in 1888. Under this system, the ballots are printed at public expense by the officials charged with the conduct of elections. The names of all candidates for each office are grouped on the same ballot and the voter indicates his choice by marking an "X" for each candidate he favors. This provided some degree of secrecy for the voter.
During this long and romantic struggle to permit the people to decide the fate of government by secret ballot, many men sought to perfect a fair, infallible, yet simple method of voting and vote counting by machine.
Thomas A. Edison was a pioneer in this field. His very first patent, issued June 1, 1869, was for an "Electrographic Vote Recorder", which he built in the hope it might be used in the Congress. While never adopted for public use, his ideas paved the way for the voting machines of today.
The first voting machine actually used in an election (in Lockport, New York, in 1892) was the invention of Jacob H. Meyers. It was a massive device, too cumbersome for wide spread use. Four years later, the United States Voting Machine Company of Jamestown marketed an improved device which soon secured widespread use throughout New York State. This organization was the parent of the Automatic Voting Machine Corporation of Jamestown, New York, that manufactured the AVM voting machines. Many of the machines manufactured almost a hundred years ago are still in working order today.
The First Voting Machines In Louisiana
In Louisiana voting machines were first introduced in Orleans Parish in the early 40's. The machines were the invention of Ransom Shoup who was well known in political circles in Louisiana. They were called Shoup Voting Machines. The machine was mechanical with a vertical ballot placement which allowed for 500 voting positions. The original model Shoup Voting Machines remained in service in Louisiana for more than 50 years and have only recently been replaced with state of the art electronic voting devices. Other parishes that acquired voting machines were East Baton Rouge, Calcasieu and Caddo who also bought Shoup Voting Machines.
In 1952 a former Judge, Robert F. Kennon , won election as Governor of Louisiana and decided he would do something to change the belief that Louisiana was the laughing stock of America because of corrupt politics. Governor Kennon is probably best remembered for ending an era of open and illegal gambling that included raids on establishments that housed the so called "one arm bandits" slot machines with state police bursting through doors and confiscating and destroying the devices. In the first year of his administration, legislation was passed and an appropriation was made to acquire voting machines at state expense for every parish in the state.
There were two major manufacturers of mechanical voting machines in the U.S. at that time. One was Shoup Voting Machine Co. Of Gerry, New York, which already had sold equipment to several parishes. The other was The Automatic Voting Machine Corporation of Jamestown, New York that produced voting machines since 1896. Neither company could produce the numbers of machines required to fill the Louisiana order within the time specified, so the machines were ordered from both manufacturers and would be placed in whole Congressional Districts.
Since Orleans, East Baton Rouge, Calcasieu and Caddo already had some Shoup Voting Machines, the congressional districts 1, 2, 4, 6 & 7 would all get Shoup Voting Machines. There were 34 parishes in these five congressional districts. The rest of the state that included congressional districts 3, 5 & 8 were slated to get the Automatic Voting Machine. Both machines had the same capacity (500 voting levers) and all the same security features as required by the Voting Machine Law of 1952. The AVM machine manufactured by Automatic Voting Machine Corporation was different only in that the ballot presentation was horizontal and mostly at eye level with the voter. Additionally, the top part of the voting machine descends into the lower case that facilitates handling when transporting from storage to precinct and back.
Secretary of State
All voting machines were in the custody and control of Secretary of State Wade O. Martin, Jr. , a veteran of many years in public office. Immediately after the passage of the Voting Machine Law in the l952 legislative session, arrangements to provide for the receipt and storage of these massive devices (1000 pounds) began. The law provided that at least one voting machine would be purchased for each precinct in the state with additional machines provided under a formula that would allow one machine for every 400 registered voters or major part thereof. Consolidation of precincts, which was and continues to be the duty of the parish governing authority, eliminated many small precincts to make for a more efficient use of the machines.
After acquiring the new machines, drayage contracts had to be negotiated to distribute the voting machines to the respective parishes for permanent storage. Some voting machines were delivered by boat or barge, as there were a number of voting precincts isolated by water. Bayou Chene, Atchafalaya,Stephensville and Belle River in St. Martin Parish had permanently assigned machines. Pecan Island in Vermilion Parish was another as were Pilottown,Ostrica and Olga in Plaquemines Parish.
The Secretary of State set up an election department within his office and began to assemble and train a full time staff of service technicians to maintain the voting machines in all 64 parishes. Besides training staff for operating and maintaining the new voting machines the Secretary of State embarked on a large-scale public education program. Parish Clerks of Court, who were and still are the chief election officials at the parish level, were extensively involved in demonstrating the new voting device that would change the election process in Louisiana forever.
Education of Voters
Voting machines were placed in each courthouse where visitors and interested citizens would have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the operation of this newest addition to the election process in Louisiana.
Universities, high schools, civic and church groups were offered the use of voting machines for their private elections and thereby gave more people the opportunity to learn the very simple procedure of voting on a mechanical voting machine. It was believed then, as it is today that to start the process of inculcation with the youth of our state would eventually arouse the interest of the older segment of our population. It worked very well. Thousands of people had the opportunity for "hands on" experience with the mechanical giant before an official election would be held.
Big Changes in Election Laws
Drastic changes were made in the Louisiana Election Law to accommodate the use of voting machines. One of the most significant changes was the elimination of assistance to voters in casting a ballot. This powerful and extremely effective change abruptly stopped the practice of vote buying and selling,since the law stated that only one person would be allowed in the voting machine unless physically handicapped. To accommodate voters who are unable to read, the new election laws provided for giving each candidate a number. After the qualifying deadline, all candidates are listed in alphabetical order by office and numbers are assigned to each candidate. Today, candidates print these numbers on their election campaign paraphernalia and advertise it as a simple way to remember them in the election. The provision of not allowing assistance to voters was ruled illegal by the Federal Voting Rights section of the U. S. Justice Department, however. Today, the Voter Fraud Unit in theElections Division investigates complaints of voter fraud and voting irregularities. The Voter Fraud Hotline provides the public with a direct link to quickly lodge complaints.
Department of Elections and Registration
Following the phenomenal first primary victory by Governor Earl K. Long in 1956, the Secretary of State was stripped of custody and control of voting machines by an act of the Legislature. A new state department called the Custodian of Voting Machines was formed by the same act. James M. McLemore was appointed the first Custodian of Voting Machines by newly elected Governor Long. Mr. McLemore setup the new department and served under a special board known as the Board for Voting Machines. This board was comprised of appointees of the Governor who served at his pleasure. Their duties were limited to having an overview of the office of the Custodian of Voting Machines in the acquisition of new machines.
Three Custodians In Four Years
Mr. McLemore served a little more than two years, resigned and was replaced by another friend of the Governor, Mr. Drayton Boucher. Mr. Boucher left the office to allow the appointment of Douglas Fowler who was interested in seeking the elective office in the next election. The election in 1959-60 saw the appointed incumbent win a very tough race in which Governor Jimmie Davis was elected Governor for the second time.
New Constitution Changes Name
Governor Edwin Edwards in his first term of office called for a constitutional convention to rewrite and replace the bulky State Constitution that was amended so many times it was hard to follow. Effective January 1, 1975, a new Department of Elections and Registration was formed with voter registration added to the duties of the Custodian of Voting Machines.
Douglas Fowler, late father of former Commissioner of Elections Jerry Fowler continued in office until the election of 1979 that saw candidate Jerry Fowler win an impressive victory for a newcomer in state politics. Commissioner Fowler was re-elected five times. Prior to the October 1999 primary election, Fowler was charged in a East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indictment with nine felony counts charging that he received kickbacks and payoffs for contracts he awarded while in office. He lost his re-election bid and on November 27, 1999 pleaded guilty to malfeasance in office and conspiracy to commit money laundering. On December 15th, he pleaded guilty in Federal court to three counts of filing false income tax returns.
In 1999, voters elected a new commissioner, Suzanne Haik-Terrell, the first woman to serve as Commissioner of Elections. Commissioner Terrell campaigned on a platform to restore integrity to the office and began by canceling numerous contracts, streamlining operations, and downsizing department spending and personnel.
Act 451 of the 2001 Legislature
In the 2001 Regular Session of the Legislature, Representative Bruneau and others sponsored House Bill 18 which was enacted and became Act 451 on June 20, 2001. The act is " . . . relative to the Commissioner of Elections and the Department of Elections and Registration, and provided for the appointment in lieu of election of the Commissioner of Elections and for the merger and consolidation of the Department of Elections and Registration with the Department of State and for the transfer of such department and its powers, duties, functions, and responsibilities to the Department of State. . . ." The changes mandated by legislation were accomplished on Inauguration Day, January 12, 2004, upon the expiration of the then Commissioner of Elections term in office, and now all voter registration and elections activities are again under the direction of the Secretary of State .
The electronic age is definitely in the election process in Louisiana and slowly taking over. Louisiana has a unique computerized system for maintenance of voter registration records that was one of the first in the nation. This system has eliminated dual registration, among other things, and daily updates our voter registration rolls. All parish Registrars of Voters are tied into one statewide network that is a first class communication system as well as a tool to keep the voting rolls accurate and up to date.
Electronic voting machines are now used in all parishes of the state. We have early voting electronic machines that are small and lightweight. They are easy to use by both election officers and voters and give fast, accurate returns minutes after the polls close. We also have electronic election day machines which have a 15 year success record in our state. Vote totals are transmitted electronically in order to consolidate precinct returns quickly and flawlessly.
The Elections Division continues to search for new and innovative ideas for elections as well as state of the art equipment. Our full time staff of election experts are nationally recognized and frequently sought for advice and counsel.
Portions of this document prior to the October 1999 primary section were written by Mr. Shine Domingue who was continuously employed in the Department of Elections since voting machines first arrived in 1953. He retired in 1993 as First Assistant Commissioner of Elections.